Thursday, January 9, 2014


Christal Cooper – 1404 Words
Facebook @ Christal Ann Rice Cooper

I've come to really appreciate Joo-Eun's story
Joo-Eun is Korean for Pearl. She was such a
tiny and beautiful woman, a porcelain doll, but
she had strength and resilience and she brought
out such compassion in someone we all considered arrogant and dangerous.  In Joo-Eun's case, that lady ended up walking side by side with the tigress.”
JM Cornwell

Author of Among Women

It took J.M. Cornwell over 30 years to write and edit Among Women, a novel about women in prison and the circumstances and choices that led them there.   The book has elements of the biography and fiction, but is mostly autobiographical.

Among Women at the heart, this is my story, a part of my life that has remained strong and fresh in my mind. Yes, it is about the rights of the imprisoned, but the main theme is perception. How we react when we see people and what happens when we interact with them.  To be able to see others as people with their own stories, we have to get past that first impression and the social conventions we grew up with. Very few people are all bad or even evil and fewer people are perfect and good. We are all at heart people, and women, who want the best for our families and to be seen, not as faceless members of some social clan but as individuals with hopes and dreams. We are the sum of our experiences and want to be known, fully known as only one person can know another be opening up and sharing ourselves.”
The writing process was long, arduous, and sporadic.  She wrote the first lines of the book while in jail. 

“When I began writing in jail, I just kept writing.  It was a promise I made to myself to let people know that the women who end up in jail were not as they believed them to be and that injustice was rampant in the system.”
Majority of the book was written from her home, at night, with pen and paper.  She’d write whenever the inspiration came and then place the handwritten manuscript away until the muse came again – sometimes a month later, two years later, even ten years later, before she’d take it out again and add more writing entries. 

 Cornwell’s main purpose in writing Among Women was to record moment by moment things in her own personal life and the personal lives of people she knew.  Since most of those memories were very clear there was no need to prepare an outline or a synopsis. At first, she wrote at night, but soon she was writing day and night.
       “I was in the zone.  When I’m in the zone of writing, I lose track of time.  I was immersed in the time and place, just as I had been when it all happened.  I listened to the stories again and imagined them happening to each of the women.  The more I put myself in their stories, the more things became clearer and took on a life of their own.”

The most difficult task of writing Among Women was the beginning and the ending, which Cornwell rewrote so many times she lost count.  

“I originally ended the book where Pearl goes to the cafe on Bienville in the French Quarter and is at last back among her friends not knowing that there were two men trying to find her. That left too many questions, so I decided, after more rewriting, that there had to be a sequel, and changed the ending one last time.”

Unlike most writers who find the beginning to be the hardest part of a novel, to Cornwell, it is the ending that is the most problematic.
“Yes, beginnings are when you hook the reader but it is at the end when the book either comes together or falls apart (and) will end with the reader disliking the book and feeling cheated.”
       Among Women centers on Pearl, a young woman living in the strange city of New Orleans, who finds herself robbed and abandoned, trying to survive only to end up arrested for someone else’s crime and thrown into jail for six weeks.  During those six weeks she lives with fifty other women, whom she feels superior to and not worthy of her friendship.  Pearl writes her own experiences and the experiences of her fellow inmate, which causes a change to occur. 

       “When Pearl begins to listen to each person's story is when she puts aside her prejudices and that is a major turning point. Putting pen to paper is an extension of that moment because (Pearl) makes a definite choice to do something, for herself and for the women she comes to know. She becomes less the victim and more the author of her own life.”
       Among Women is a lesson to all of humanity – before you judge someone, get to know that individual, and then base your judgment and opinion on your own personal experience with that person.  We are all Pearls, and reading this book, we, along with Pearl, can finally see.

“It is not until we actually SEE someone, look into their eyes, that we begin to know each other and cast off our prejudices and preconceptions.”
Perhaps the strangest thing about this novel is that one character Cornwell identified the most with, Pearl, was the character that surprised her the most.
“I don't think I knew everything that was buried inside Pearl until I wrote the other women's stories and began to see the whole thing from the outside as a writer.”

Cornwell sent the manuscript Among Women to the publishers of her first book Past Imperfect, which they rejected. 
       “They didn't like the violence of Betty's rape or the tone of the book. Their rejection came with a note that nothing happens in the book and readers wouldn't like that.”

       After three publishers and one agent rejected Among Women, Cornwell decided to self publish the book. She contacted an artist and began the process.
       “This was at the time when indie publishing was getting a real foothold in the industry and Kindle Direct became available.  I took a deep breath and jumped off the cliff.”
       Cornwell resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado, her home resting at the feet of Pikes Peak.  It is in her home where she works as a medical transcriptionist during the day and writes every chance she gets.

 “I usually write at night after I finish work and sometimes early in the morning when I can't sleep.   The evenings and early mornings, when I usually sleep, are split between writing letters and books, keeping up a considerable correspondence, cross stitch, and designing cross-stitch. To keep the writing muscles limber, I write every day, often on more than one project.”

Cornwell believes a dedicated writer must have determination and grit, never give up on his or her dreams, and be willing to make sacrifices if they want to get published.  

       “Many people say they would like to write, but when I tell them that giving up 1 or 2 TV programs to write is necessary to finding the time, they balk.  The important thing is to write and keep writing every day and find the time and the space even if you have to install a lock on the inside of the door to keep distractions to a minimum.”

Cornwell, like most writers, insists that one must read in order to be an effective writer.

“I couldn't live without reading and wouldn't be much of a writer if I didn't read, and I read voraciously in a myriad of subjects. Homer and Edgar Rice Burroughs were my first influences, but I think fairy tales have been my greatest influence. There is something magical about telling a story that makes people want to sit and listen -- or read and I believe in magic. Books are magical doorways to the deepest desires and the imagination. Each new book is another doorway and another step into a new adventure. In that way, every good book has influenced me and spurred me to be a better writer.”

Contact JM Cornwell via snail mail at 1907 W Pikes Peak Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.
 Email at, visit facebook at, or visit her blog at

*Excerpt of Among Women by JM Cornwell.  Copyright by JM Cornwell.

Thirteen:  JOO-EUN

Kwan Joo-Eun grasped the hem of her tailored linen jacket to still the trembling in her hands. Her brother, Kwan Tomeo, held out a ballpoint. “Sign.”
His sister stood ramrod straight, teeth clenched, straining against the monsoon of hot emotion speeding through her veins.
Joo-Eun took the pen and laid it carefully on the counter between them. She turned and walked over to a box of video tapes, picked up the pricing gun and attached labels to the videos before placing them carefully on the rack. Kwan Tomeo picked up his briefcase, pocketed the platinum Cross pen he always carried as a symbol of his wealth and power, and walked out the door. The bell jangled wildly. Joo-Eun continued pricing and placing videos until the box was empty, and took a box cutter from her trouser pocket. She slashed the tape, deftly broke down the box and laid it on top of a stack near the end of the rack, her precise movements a cover for the wild throbbing of her anger. She would not give up her share of the business or marry the man her brother chose. They were no longer in Korea and she was not a child.
Working quickly, she emptied the remaining two boxes, broke them down and laid them on the stack before locking the door and counting out the register. She checked her watch. It was past 2 a.m. Joo-Eun put on her coat and dragged the pile of cardboard out the alley door, locked it and leaned the pile against the dumpster. Shivering in her sable coat, Joo-Eun quickly unlocked her car and got in. The drive home in the teeth of an icy wind threatened to force her off the road. She fought the wheel, grateful for the few stoplights still working at that hour. Her hands trembled when she pulled into the driveway forty minutes later, fighting icy roads and howling head winds all the way. The commute usually took fifteen minutes. She was glad to be home as she thumbed the garage door opener and drove inside.
Once the door was down and she was inside, she let go the iron grasp on the steering wheel, unlocked the door to the laundry room and crumpled bonelessly to the floor. Wrapping her trembling arms around her knees, she rocked to and fro. She swung between anger at her brother’s demands and fear of what he would do if she continued to defy him.
This was not Korea. She had rights. Tomeo had not built up the store. She had done it alone, turning the least of the family’s holdings into a profitable business. She had earned the right to choose her own path and was not about to relinquish control of her life to Tomeo or whomever he chose to foist on her. It did not matter that the man Tomeo selected was wealthy and the alliance would satisfy her brother’s lust for control and power. She would not give in, especially not to marry a man thirty-five years her senior. Even had the man been ten years older she would not have agreed, not if it meant giving up control of her life or what she had earned the hard way. The family would gain much prestige. “Life is not just prestige,” she said to the walls. There had to be some pleasure, some happiness and, yes, some choice to be worth the sacrifice. “I do not do sacrifice.” She got off the floor and kicked off her high heels, slipping her feet into house shoes.
Some traditions were worth keeping. Arranged marriages and the life of a silent, biddable wife were traditions not worth perpetuating, not when those traditions demeaned her. And not if she must give up her freedom. A man so much older would not countenance an independent wife. He was too much a slave of tradition. When he died—and he would die long before her—she would be left with very little. All his money would go to his family because she was unable to bear children. A woman without sons had no status in Korea and there would be no sons. Had Tomeo even told him she was barren?
He must have. Such a delicate matter left out of the negotiations, if it came to light later, would end in her being sent back to her family in shame and without her dowry. “I will not submit. Not this time.
“Cut me out if you dare, Tomeo. You cannot take away my pride or my life.” As long as he did not cut her out of the business she had built, Tomeo could follow all the traditions he liked. She would make her own traditions.
Joo-Eun knew she had been meant to fail. The bookstore had been meant to drag her down by throwing her into the deep end. She had been rebellious and Tomeo and her mother were determined to make things as difficult as possible. “You are too American,” her mother said. “You must be more feminine. An older husband will quiet the demons and remind you of your place. Do not get too comfortable in your business. You only mind it for the family.”
She had not failed, but prospered, bringing more money into the family than her three elder brothers. Her success had nearly cost Tomeo his standing, especially since one of the businesses he backed was now bankrupt. He still earned more than Joo-Eun, but only by a mere forty thousand a quarter. That was, as the Americans said—“as I would say”—small potatoes.
She straightened her blouse and trousers. She needed a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow she would talk to her lawyer and see what options remained. Tomeo would have to bow to the American legal system. On paper, she owned the store. That was another one of Tomeo’s mistakes. In order to protect the family’s holdings and spread the risk, her name alone was on the deed, giving her complete power and control. He could not afford to take her to court and risk exposing the extent of the family’s holdings or some of their marginally legitimate businesses. It was just the leverage she needed to break away and become fully independent at last.
A hot bath, a glass of wine and her favorite Chopin piano concerto eased away some of the strain and cold lingering from the confrontation with Tomeo and the drive home. As she toweled off and applied the silky blue lotus and lavender lotion to her skin, jangled nerves and the pounding pulse at her temples eased. She slipped into silk pajamas and released the carved bone pins from her hair to brush it out before getting into bed.
Warm and comfortable beneath her embroidered satin comforter, Joo-Eun listened to the wind howl and shake the windows. Succumbing to the heavy weight of her eyelids, she opened wide the doors of her mind and embraced sleep, drifting on a warm, placid sea. On the nightstand, an antique baroque French clock gently ticked away the minutes.

Cold hands gripped her arms and dragged Joo-Eun from bed. Rough laughter raked her ears.

       “Get dressed.” In the harsh glare of the overhead light, Joo-Eun blinked, her eyes watering, as she struggled into an embroidered satin brocade robe. She bent down to grab her slippers and was yanked upright by her arm. Before she could get to her feet, she was dragged through the door and into the hall. “What are you doing? Let me go.” Both hands were pinned roughly behind her back until she cried out in pain. “You are hurting me.”
“Get moving.” A blue-clad officer grabbed her by the hair and dragged her toward the steps. She fought to break free and was stunned to silent immobility when she saw her brother standing at the foot of the stairs smiling up at her.
“Tomeo. You cannot do this.”
“It’s done, little sister.”
She numbly followed the officer down the stairs. Twice she tripped and twice she was dragged her feet.
“Why?” Joo-Eun’s strangled cry turned to a wail. As he stood there looking at her, one eyebrow arched, a self satisfied smile playing about his lips, she became angry. “Tomeo, why?”
"Do not presume to question me," he said and slapped her, rocking her head back. Rage glittered in her dark eyes and Tomeo slapped her again. Her head bounced off the wall as she staggered and fell. She tasted blood. With one hand at the corner of her mouth where blood trickled down her chin, she braced against the wall as she stood up. "Take her," he said.
"I will not go."
"You have no choice, little sister." The officers grabbed her arms and Tomeo tilted her head up with one finger. "After a little vacation, you will see things differently." He nodded to the officers.
Tomeo’s triumphant smile slipped sideways into a smirk as the officers handcuffed her and pushed her out the door and into the frigid night. She fell to her knees on the sidewalk only to be dragged to the squad car by her arms, a rag doll between two pit bulls. They tossed her inside as though she weighed nothing and was of no value. The door slammed, banging against the soles of her bare feet. Pain shot up both legs. She struggled to squirm to the other side of the seat and sit up, hampered by the burning pain in her shoulders. Cramps seized both arms. The handcuffs were so tight her hands were numb. Unable to right herself, she lay on the seat while hot tears seared scalding tracks down her cheeks.
A short while later she was hauled out of the car and frog-marched up the cement steps and into a bedlam of sights, sounds and foul smells. She tensed, muscles and sinews taut, ready to run. Her skin crawled, repulsed. She cringed away from the filthy tile floors and was shoved forward. She stumbled through icy puddles of melting snow and dirt, slipping in slimy puddles of warm yellow liquid too foul to contemplate. One of the officers spun her around and unlocked the handcuffs. He pushed her into a long room flanked by hard wooden benches. The heavy metal door banged shut and echoed in the sudden silence.
None of the four women doggedly devouring white bread sandwiches filled with pallid brown patties that might be meat—or something worse—looked up as she sidled to a corner and sat down. She covered both knees with the filthy, wet robe and wrapped her arms around them. Head lowered, her long black hair drifted down to cover her face while she silently wept.
The image of Tomeo’s triumphant smile while he toyed with his platinum Cross pen still burned in memory. She had been betrayed.


Photo 1
JM Cornwell.  Copyright by JM Cornwell.

Photo 2 and Photo 18
Front and back jacket covers of Among Women

Photo 3.
Early photo of JM Cornwell.  Copyright by JM Cornwell.

Photo 4
Another jacket cover of Among Women.

Photo 5
Jacket cover of Among Women.

Photo 6
French Quarter in New Orleans in September of 2001.  Attributed to Chris Litherlard.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licesne.

Photo 7
Front and back jacket cover of Among Men

Photo 8
Abandoned traditional day cell block.  Location unknown.  Attributed to Bob Jagerdorf.  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.    

Photo 9
Blue eye of female.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Photo 10
Jacket cover of Past Imperfect

Another jacket cover of Past Imperfect

Photo 12
Pikes Peak.  Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Photo 13
Jacket cover of First Kiss

Photo 14
Jacket cover of Legacy

Photo 15
Jacket cover of Whitechapel Hearts

Photo 16
Jacket cover of Theft of the Seventh Chakra

Photo 17
Jacket cover of Heart Strings

No comments:

Post a Comment